BETA

THE REIGNING VICE.

In our June Number of 1827, we reviewed fully and freely a moral satire
of great merit, bearing this title, and gave copious extracts. The author has
sent to us the concluding Books, with the following notice.
C. N.
In a Preface to the already published Books of The Reigning Vice, the
author attempted to explain his design in the following words.
My aim, in the Poem, is rather to point out a moral disease than a moral
sanity ; and having established the prevalence of the former, to consider what
means of recovery are in our power. * * * My object in these (that is, the
published) Books, is to prove that Self-love is universal, and, in our world,
disordered. I have pointed out in the First Book many outward exhibitions
of human nature, as proving the universality of self-love. In the second, I
have traced her to some of her lurking-places, and through some of her
modes of action. In the third, I have attempted to delineate her prominent
features in the present day. In the fourth, I have shewn her to be the sole
cause of human evils, from her identity with Selfishness. In the Books that
are to come, I propose to develope the cause and object of her caprices, and
finally to consider the means by which her perverted impulse may be turned
to its right end and original destination.’
The Books spoken of in the last paragraph, as ‘to come,’ are those which
are now about to be laid before the public. The two first will ‘ develope
the cause and object of the caprices’ of Self-love, and also of the fluctua-
tions of the darker passions—the two last will suggest the remedy.”

THE REIGNING VICE. BOOK V.

As the shell, parted from its parent shore,1
Still murmuring, echoes Ocean’s boundless roar,2
The soul, God’s image, wandering far abroad,3
Mocks in itself the attributes of God !4
Creative energy, discerning sense,5
Love, justice, mercy, power, benevolence.6
God is all-happy ; —to its fountain true,7
Th’ aspiring soul would be all-happy too.8
But say, can man the springs of joy control,9
Or can a part be perfect as the whole ?10
To shines created bliss can only fall11
From Him who fills, sustains, and governs all :12
Man seeks it in himself, with erring bent,13
And mortal happiness is self-content.14
Yes ! self-content is earth’s Elysian rest,15
Nature’s strong cry in every human breast ;16
This the true aim of all beneath the sun,17
The means are different, but the end is one.18
Each various object fair or hateful seems,19
As it prolongs or dissipates our dreams :20
Gold, lineage, fame, are only steps to rise21
More in our own than in another’s eyes ;22
And all the stir of action is but dear,23
Because it drowns the voice we would not hear.24
Yet reason shakes us ; —come then, fond self-love,25
In guile the serpent, and in mien the dove ;26
Bind all thy foes with chains conceal’d in flowers,27
And call around thee all thy sister powers !28
Should conscience dare her Argus watch to keep,29
Charm, one by one, her thousand eyes to sleep !30
O’er every mind some spell peculiar fling,31
And pid each state its own delusion bring !32
Let absolution still the Romish breast,33
In some strange penance be the Brahmin blest ;34
The Indian, in the victim of his hate,35
His victim in the smile that conquers fate ;36
While still shall wave before the Moslem’s eyes37
The blood-red sword that opens Paradise !38
How strong the impulse self-content to gain,39
When pleasure thus is snatch’d from depths of pain !40
Victorious Instinct, thou canst soar above41
The love of life, yea, ev’n a mother’s love !42
Lo, Indian widows, by thy promise led,43
Triumphant hail the bridal of the dead ;44
And, vow’d to Ganges, new-born infants win45
Unholy pardon for their parents’ sin.46
To common life the searching glance direct ; —47
What sweet atonements there, our peace protect !48
If deadly sins dispute the way to Heaven,49
One monstrous virtue shall outweigh the seven.50
What through the stews if married Claudio ran ?51
He gamed not—therefore was a moral man !52
But, should no virtue to our suit be kind,53
Defects of heart are paid by gifts of mind.54
Good Sense may well good Nature’s want supply,55
And, pray, what need hath Wit of Honesty ?56
In every rank, success can gild deceit,57
And thieves are proud as patriots when they cheat.58
Nay, ev’n the body spreads a decent screen59
The soul and her deformities between.60
A well-turn’d leg with prudence may dispense,61
Bright eyes with thought, fine teeth with common sense.62
Great charms the decalogue aside may fling ;63
I’m not a saint—but then how well I sing ! ”64
The old still gild the present with the past,65
Talk of “ my day,” and triumph to the last ;66
And batter’d heroes, veteran beauties, glow67
O’er gay campaigns of fifty years ago.68
See how each mind, its self-repose to keep,69
Hath its own way to lull each fear to sleep !70
Some, in youth’s vigour, take a sort of pride71
In sins, to youth and vigour near allied.72
Some, restless, find their own excuse at length73
In Nature’s weakness, and in Passion’s strength.74
Others, when pangs intrusive wake within,75
Take comfort From the multitude who sin,76
And, if their errors too notorious glare,77
Thank God—they are not “ worse than others are.”78
Some mourn the frailties which they never mend,79
Their very sorrows with confession end ;80
They half rejoice to know their passions’ force,81
And feel a satisfaction in remorse.82
Or the same mind may all these means employ83
To lay the ghost that haunts forbidden joy.84
Professions seem on mortals to confer85
The profit of a double character.86
In some small matters if the private fail,87
The public character shall turn the scale ;88
If, by hard fate, the gunk man should err,89
Hey, presto ! shew the private character !90
Each lays the healing unction to his heart91
Of playing well his own peculiar part.92
Blest is the Poet in his Ode to Hope,93
The hangman in his prowess o’er a rope ;94
Blest may the Painter in his visions be,95
The grocer in his superfine bohea.96
Wrapt in their calling, still themselves they scan97
As artist, tradesman, poet, more than man.98
And deem ye then, in various garb array’d,99
The inward soul is therefore of a trade ?100
Thought is expell’d from Life’s still-varying stage,101
In different modes by every different age.102
Away it floats on Childhood’s buoyant mirth,103
Youth’s stormy passions hunt it o’er the earth ;104
In plotting manhood is th’ intruder lost,105
Then lock’d in apathy by age’s frost.106
Thus, till its death, for ever outward hurl’d,107
Thought leaves within an undiscover’d world.108
Ye sage geographers the chart explore !109
What, silent ? —Not the unletter’d peasant more !110
Go, trace its orbit, ye who map the skies !111
Yours prove no better than a cobbler’s eyes.112
To inward knowledge Learning’s self may blind,113
Not less than Ignorance may blunt the mind.114
Has he, who classes insects, birds, and flowers,115
Order’d his heart, or ranged his mental powers ?116
The subtle chemist Nature may control,117
But what alembic shall distil the soul ?118
Th’ expert physician nerves and veins may trace,119
But not the spirit to her hiding-place.120
Vain, too, the scheme philosophers can build,121
Deep-read in others, in themselves unskill’ d.122
Nor may this wisdom reach the prudent sconce,—123
The pupil of the world is still a dunce ;124
By soft Self-love Experience is beguil’d,125
And oldest Vanity remains a child.126
Trace we thy varied modes to lull the breast ?127
Of all thy friends, Illusion serves thee best.128
As in a crystal brook, so bright, so clear,129
It only seems a purer atmosphere,130
Self-love, in thy fond mirror, things are shewn131
In softer tints and beauty not their own.132
There mortals, gazing with enrapt amaze,133
Narcissus-like, grow amorous as the gaze.134
Nor only lovely objects seem more fair ;135
Deformity itself turns beauty there.136
Hence all our motives wear a painted hue,137
And springs, that prompt our action, shun our view.138
No charms for man has undissembling Sin,139
She wins to conquer, veils herself to win.140
Hell’s crafty fiends alarm not, but entice,141
And Self-delusion ruins more than vice.142
Hence patriot Cromwell, pure as yet in thought,143
For Duty’s shrine Ambition’s altar sought,144
The costly sacrifice behold him bring145
A guiltless mortal, but a guilty king !146
Check the sweet tear, repress the human sigh,147
Thou Brutus of thy country’s liberty !148
Compassion pleads ; —her heavenly voice control,149
And nobly triumph o’er thy better soul !150
’Tis done—Why mourn’st thou o’er thy monarch’s bier ?151
’Tis Nature speaks, and Nature is sincere.152
Yet all thy woe let midnight darkness hide,153
Thy virtue be thy shame, thy shame thy pride.154
The tyrant is no more ! —Is England free ?155
Alas, the more than tyrant lives in thee !156
Through humbler life the dear delusion runs ;157
Amelia beats her daughter, starves her sons,158
And yet no self-upbraiding thought she smothers,159
When, pleased, she hails herself the best of mothers !160
Celia, a scold, a termagant, and shrew,161
Says she’s good-temper’d,—and she thinks so too.162
Is there would risk his soul’s repose and health,163
And take Egenor’s conscience with his wealth ?164
Ah, sure the widow’s groan, the orphan’s cry,165
Ring in his ears, and drown the voice of joy !166
He comes abroad ! His brow looks wondrous clear !167
He speaks—where only Heaven and we can hear.168
Thank God,” he cries, “ I ne’er the poor opprest,169
Nor pride, nor malice, rankle in my breast.170
To the Lord’s table I can bring a mind171
In perfect amity with all mankind.172
Still true to Wisdom’s text, where’er I roam,173
I make my charity begin at home.174
What if the poor complain ? —A canting train !175
Give what you may, they ever will complain.176
What if my milk no sturdy pauper swigs ?177
Good Heaven, ’ twere cruel to Aad my pigs !178
What if the lawsuit stripp’d my kinsman bare ?179
I weep the justice due unto my heir !180
A mourning token in my will he’ll find ; —181
And then my yearly tribute to the blind ! ”182
For shame ! you are not orthodox, good sir !183
These sin not, if through ignorance they err.”184
Your pardon, Doctor ; ignorance is sin,185
When knowledge cries without and pleads within.186
Well, well ! to gentler errors let us glide,187
From happy knaves to fools self-satisfied.188
Lo, what a goodly crowd distract the choice,189
And ask Linnæan eyes—Homeric voice !190
As different soils a different crop impart,191
Self-love springs various from the various heart ;192
In some ’ tis seen reserved, in others free,193
Here all vain mirth, there all solemnity,194
Now wild it prates, now once a-fortnight speaks,195
Here struts important, there most slily sneaks ;196
Now shrinks from note, now courts it ev’n with blame,197
Now tremblingly alive, now dead to shame.198
Her names, too, vary with the breasts she rules,—199
Thus Vanity is but the Pride of fools.200
If bashfulness—conceit—the thing we call,201
’Tis still but Self-applause betray’d in all.202
As glasses shew, yet shield with jealous care,203
The plant we name the sensitive, from air,204
Thus what lies outward, and betray’d to sense,205
Is Self-love’s revelation and defence.206
Not only careful to provide us joy,207
She fondly guards us from all rude annoy,208
And, kind as Nature, on each tribe bestows209
Appropriate methods to repel its foes.210
When storms assail, Pride meets them as a rock,211
Vanity, reed-like, rises from the shock.212
The hedgehog, Obstinacy, tries her foe ;213
Wrath, a roused lion, kills him at a blow.214
Presumption routs his enemies in mass,215
Like Samson, with the jaw-bone of an ass ;216
Conceit first catches, then returns the shaft,217
Huge Arrogance runs down the petty craft ;218
While Self-complacency turns smoothly off219
From her sleek bosom Scorn’s unhallow’d scoff :220
As when two drakes contend upon a brook,221
The vanquish’d rises with a victor’s look,222
Replumes his feathers, claps his sounding wings,223
And far away the idle deluge flings.224
Self-flattery to the wounded proffers aid,225
And heals with balm the wounds which Truth had made.226
What though defect creeps in on all we do ?227
Our friendly organs are defective too.228
Still perfect to ourselves our deeds appear,229
As discord tuneful to the tuneless ear.230
Ourselves we measure by ourselves alone,231
Or by a folly greater than our own.232
Hence Self-conceit, with blinking visage dun,233
Mistakes his farthing taper for the sun ;234
Where Locke keeps silence, speaks unblushing out,235
And boldly certain, solves a Newton’s doubt.236
Hence Prejudice, with many a sapient saw,237
Remains unalter’d as a Persian law ;238
And grave Importance strokes his paunch and sighs,239
Profoundly foolish, ignorantly wise.240
Sure one of these enough for man may be,241
But happy Oliver unites the three ;242
Still on one datum pores his filmy sight,243
All, all are wrong,—I only in the right ! ”244
At monstrous theories he rails all day,245
Yet frames his own ; —ye gods, how monstrous they !246
So dearly obstinate, if once he please247
To tell you that the moon is made of cheese,248
Though Herschel’s self, you would harangue in vain,249
Green cheese it is, and ever must remain.250
All argument he meets with one rebuff,—251
The fancy-killing interjection— “ Stuff ! ”252
Sweet Contradiction is his own pet lamb,253
Conceit her sire, and Ignorance her dam.254
If haply you exclaim, “ How dark the night ! ”255
He swears the sun has never shone so bright ;256
Lauds all you blame, blames all that you approve ;257
Loves what you hate, and hates whate’er you love.258
Yet, while his notions, like the oak’s firm root,259
Grow by resistance, harden by dispute,260
If once you yield, the work is still to do ;261
For, lo, he alters his opinion too !262
With some few maxims as his conduct’s rule,263
Cull’d choicely from his copy-book at school,264
From this to that, from that to this, he ranges,265
And rings th’ unchanging, everlasting changes.266
What though his rules conduct to blank disgrace,267
Though sad conviction stare him in the face,268
Dumb be his throat, and blister’d be his tongue,269
Ere they recant and own him in the wrong !270
Go ! couch the eye that never saw the day !271
Thou canst not purge wise Folly’s film away !272
Alas ! nor precepts nor persuasion reach273
The harden’d fool Experience cannot teach !274
When Ignorance fails her glaring rule to hide275
O’er thrice-dull dunces, she becomes their pride.276
Had they till’d Eden, beyond all dispute,277
The tree of knowledge had preserved its fruit.278
In shades Bœotian glide their lives away ; —279
If Ignorance be bliss, how blest are they !280
Thus, good Sir Simon, as is right and fit,281
Flies from that rabid animal—a wit ;282
And, when small wisdom sets his face astare,283
Thanks God he’s “ not so wise as some folks are ! ”284
To one sad tribe, opprest with constant fears,285
Self-love a churlish step-mother appears.286
So much they look for universal scorn,287
Almost her very nature seems forsworn.288
Yet prove they more, than ev’n the tranquil kind,289
How precious Self-content to every mind.290
So dear the gem, it keeps them on the rack,291
And calls them to defence before attack.292
Thus every whisper turns Antonio pale,293
And every laugh comes death-fraught on the gale,294
As if the world—O, admirable whim295
Had nothing else to do but think of him !296
Anna, why trembling join the social ring ?297
Blush when you speak, and falter when you sing ?298
You deem yow’re timid ; —ah, you do not see299
How well Self-love can ape timidity !300
How lowly fear th’ ambitious aim can hide,301
And false humility be genuine pride !302
Humility all notice would decline,303
Pride mars her brilliance by the wish to shine :304
Humility is modest, Pride is shy,305
That hath a calm, and this an anxious eye.306
The question— “ What will others think of me ? ”307
Is ask’d by Pride, and not Humility.308
Virtue, like gracefulness, consists in ease,309
Alike unconscious of her power to please.310
These snail-like tribes each threaten’d touch will shun ;311
Others, rhinoceros-like, are moved by none.312
No Irish duellist could Puff offend :313
You’re not his foe, for all mankind’s his friend.314
With adamantine walls encircled round,315
Self-love like his can never feel a wound.316
Not a new Dunciad, thundering o’er his rest,317
Could shake the soft conviction of his breast.318
If, like a noon-day owl, he rove abroad,319
A moving satire on the reigning mode,320
He but mistakes the cause of men’s amaze,321
The stare of wonder for the stare of praise.322
He’ll tell you all the gibing world exprest,323
And smiling say,— “ Of course, ’ twas all in jest.”324
You talk of fools ; —his case you fail to hit,325
Whose deeds are wisdom, and whose words are wit.326
You hint at vanity—why, then, ’ tis plain,327
Whose worth is infinite can ne’er be vain.328
Ev’n satires on Self-love no pang can yield,329
Self-love herself his panoply and shield ;330
And, should this portrait chance to meet his view,331
The less he’ll know it his—the more ’ tis true.332
Fraught with desires unbounded as our lot,333
Self-adoration can content us not.334
Where’er we turn, the world, with all its arms,335
Must hold its huge reflector to our charms.336
Here, too, Illusion cheats the willing mind,337
By gazing on itself grown worse than blind :338
Our thoughts are traitors, and we labour thus339
To make ourselves at last—ridiculous.340
As vast our aim at perfect Self-content,341
We most would shine in what is least our bent.342
Here lies our foible, this our tenderest side,343
For Vanity is sooner touch’d than Pride ;344
Acknowledged claims from further strife may cease,345
But dubious titles are the curse of peace.346
Blockheads turn critics, ploughmen read the news,347
The deaf love music, and the blind fine views ;348
The cobbler soars on Pegasean wings,349
The lame man dances, the duenna sings ;350
The stammering tongue in senates loves to speak,351
And the soft ogle strains the eye oblique.352
Merit herself will foreign aims pursue,353
Unheeding praise which justly is her due.354
In vain a thousand charms adorn the breast ;355
The one that’s wanting poisons all the rest.356
Wits will be heroes, heroes will be beaux,357
Tully turns Homer, Horace vaunts his prose.358
Stupendous Johnson, with discordant scream,359
Puffs at the pipe—a second Polypheme.360
Paul preaches well, but music is his art ;361
Paul in the pulpit, but at home Mozart.362
Thy pencil, Crito, half creation’s mine,363
Is Britain’s glory, while to dance is thine.364
Fools, have ye never mark’d the water’s queen365
O’er her own province glide in state serene,366
Arch her white neck, her billowy wings expand ?367
But how she waddles, when a walks on land !368
Pyrrho for penetration claims renown,369
And reads all characters—except his own.370
Once in the senate he essay’d his skill,371
And all the politician haunts him still.372
With what keen intellect, what vigorous thought,373
He sees and guesses every thing—that’s not !374
How well he knows—a gosling from a hen,375
And baffles all the plots—of honest men !376
Great powers in logic he reveals, in sooth,377
And reasons well—without a grain of truth !378
Still on his guard, the villain’s veriest tool,379
Despising folly, duped by every fool ;380
Sad without sorrow, poor without expense,381
From very wisdom lost to common sense.382
O, Pyrrho, cease to weave with toil and pain383
These fine-spun cobwebs of the subtle brain !384
Be all thyself ! defeat not Nature’s plan !385
Step forth a simple, plain, good-natured man !386
Poor Siro reckons still without his host,387
And so unbounded knowledge is his boast.388
Through untried streets, whole weary hours he’d stray,389
Too proud to turn, too wise to ask his way ;390
Ev’n to a stranger unresolved to shew391
His ignorance of what he could not know.392
Preserve me, Heaven, from those deliberate fools,393
Who measure all things with their lines and rules ;394
Whose solemn air and self-important mien,395
Like empty houses, cry, “ Enquire within ! ”396
You knock ; some oracle rewards your pains397
’ Tis heavy travelling after pouring rains ! ”398
O, novel fact ! indisputably true !399
Yet not so heavy as to talk with you !400
With all his little might Verbosus tries401
To look emphatic, dignified, and wise,402
As if his gravity with nature strove,403
The face of Momus with the air of Jove :404
That face a cushion on which sorrow ne’er405
Sate long enough to leave one wrinkle there.406
His nose so comic mocks his mouth so prim,407
And, though he will not laugh, we laugh at him.408
Say, what shall bound his intellectual power,409
Who makes some vast discovery every hour ?410
He bustles up ; his wisdom’s egg to lay,411
As if afraid to drop it by the way.412
Ye Humes, ye Gibbons, hide abash’d your eyes,413
Verbosus says— “ Queen Bess was mighty wise ! ”414
Look at Aurelia ! you at once declare415
That nature meant her for a grenadier.416
Strength is her dow’ry, health her luckless fate,417
But ’ tis her passion to be delicate.418
Pearl-powder dims her cheek’s unvaried hue,419
Yet still the stubborn peony shines through.420
Her voice, that pro an army’s march command,421
Is softly practised into whispers bland.422
From that huge mouth it seems the bird of Nile,423
That warbles from the jaws of crocodile.424
On her two daughters leans the sturdy dame,425
An arm of each upholds her giant frame ;426
Then to a couch by slow anaes she halts,427
And sinking, gasps,— “ Thanks, darlings ! Now my salts ! ”428
Thus oft Augusta’s streets hang out a name,429
Cull’d from each epithet they least can claim.430
So Primrose Alley, where the ambient air431
Steals all its odours from the nightman’s car !432
Mount Pleasant trembling in a quagmire see,433
And sweet Elysian groves without a tree !434
Black muddy streams alone through Brook-street glide,435
And all we buy is dearest in Cheapside !436
The all-denying, all-conceding mind,437
Whose firmness, weakness, dares, or courts mankind,438
Each from one spring its varied action draws439
Back on itself to turn the world’s applause.440
Self-praise or dispraise only ask the same,441
Assent or contradiction swell our fame.442
Of all the modes whereby Content is nurst,443
Self-clory is the clumsiest and the worst.444
To boast a merit shews the pains it cost,445
And but disproves the excellence you boast.446
Like playing off a lord or diamond ring,447
It shews you’re not familiar with the thing.448
Ah, fools, let actions speak ! —for all agree,449
Who says he’s humble, cannot humble be.450
And kindest hearts a generous soul deny451
To him who boasts his generosity.452
Yet from self-blame less shelter we command,453
Than the tired ostrich from the desert sand.454
Says Crito— “ That’s my taste ! —no doubt, ’ tis vile ! ”455
Say Crito’s eyes—“ ’ Tis exquisite ! ”—the while.456
I’m to be pitied ! ” Crito will pursue ;457
Says Crito’s nose— “ Poor fools, I pity you ! ”458
Æger’s self-love demands our wondering praise,459
Not only for himself, but all he has.460
O just demand, for not a soul denies461
Whate’er he has, is best—in his own eyes !462
Walk round his paddock— “ Did you ever see463
So grand, so vast, so wonderful—a tree ? ”464
Behold my rocks, my alpine plants ! ” he cries.465
You gaze around, you peer into the skies ;466
When, lo ! you stumbling knock your luckless bones467
Against a heap of cinders, dirt, and stones !468
What he despises, while ’ tis yours or mine,469
Become his own, grows matchless, grows divine.470
His mansion changed, the wonders of the last471
O happy fate ! —are rivall’d, are surpass’d !472
His powers recall that miracle of old,473
The magic ass, whose very dung was gold.474
Rouse not his slumbering ire—O gently move,475
And spare the gouty tees of his Self-love ;476
For death may follow, should your spleen assail477
The sacred tip of his cook’s wife’s dog’s tail.478
How different Milo, sad because unblamed,479
Whose great ambition is to be defamed.480
He’ll bear to’be call’d cuckold, knave, or sot,481
Be hooted, pelted, all but be forgot.482
But Satire soars at nobler game—What then ?483
He’ll tell you he’s the most abused of men ;484
Point of the jest, the libel, and the hint,485
The last new comedy, the liker print.486
Were all the mischief which he claims his own,487
The Lord of Hell might tremble for his throne.488
Cease, Milo, cease, our more than scorn to crave ;489
We own you fool,—why ask to be a knave ?490
Nor only does the sorceress delight491
To blind our mental, but corporeal sight.492
The very glass, wherein our looks we trace,493
Gives not a true reflection of the face.494
None sets himself apart from self, and tries495
To scan his features with another’s eyes.496
Still o’er the toilet Vanity presides,497
Smooths every wrinkle, every pimple hides ;498
Like a skill’d painter, throws her lights and shades,499
And flings her auburn hues o’er deep red braids.500
If to ourselves some small defects we own,501
For these, she whispers, other charms atone ;502
A sweet expression veils our faults of face,503
And want of symmetry’s redeem’d by grace.504
Oh, heavenly blessing, Nature’s kind relief,505
Lest dwarfs should pine and hunchbacks die of grief !506
Hence the dear mirror woman’s joy hath proved,507
Since in the stream Eve saw herself—and loved.508
All climes, all ages, every rank it wins,509
Great field of conquest for the deadly sins !510
By its new charms the Indian Squaw beguiled,511
Would sell her husband, and perhaps her child.512
In gilded pride it shines in costly halls,513
And casts a broken gleam on cottage walls.514
And why should man be mirrorless alone,515
Since Nature’s self hath mirrors of her own ?516
Trees crowd around the brook ; the Moon is vain517
Of her soft shadow on th’ unruffled main.518
Type of the sex, which leads the world along,519
In nature brittle, but in empire strong,520
Reflecting each new form with equal ease,521
And faithful only to the thing it sees.522
Who lives till he is old ? —Nor you, nor I !523
Old age recedes before us, till we die.524
Thirty is old at beautiful fifteen,525
At thirty, sixty seems to shut the scene :526
At sixty, eighty is a lengthen’d stage,527
And then—a hundred is a good old age.528
If to a hundred rolls life’s steady car,529
We’re still but chickens, if compared with Parr.530
At ninety Vetula her house repairs,531
And takes another lease of ninety years.532
Senex is wholly deaf, and nearly blind ; —533
He has a cold, a blight is in the wind !534
For all his maladies the puzzled sage535
Alleges every cause—except Old Age !536
Yet some, arrived at vigorous fourscore,537
Boast themselves old, and add a decade more.538
How passing strange the alchemy that draws539
Effects so various from one only cause !540
But who, Self-love, through all thy land of dreams,541
Can trace thy mazy, many-wandering streams ?542
In each small vein thy ruling throb we find,543
Not less than in the arteries of the mind.544
A random verse let Affectation claim,545
If she and Vanity be not the same.546
Hard task to fix the restless, agile thing,547
As paint the gem-like humming-bird on wing !548
She comes, like zephyr in an April blue,549
Her cheek a rose-leaf, and her eyes of dew ;550
A rainbow robe, an opal crown she wears,551
And in her hand an aspen-branch appears.552
Tis she, who rules the vain capricious throng,553
Twines the soft limb, and tunes the lisping tongue,554
Bids every liour the monstrous fashions veer,555
And guides the toss, the simper, and the leer.556
Yet, let the vane turn fluttering as it will,557
The point it moves on is unalter’d still.558
The wish to charm holds each caprice in thrall,559
Sun of the system, wandering stars, and all,560
Oh, how insinuating each grimace !561
The strut is dignity, the saunter grace.562
Dost thou not-think, most fair Sir Amadine,563
Angels might learn new elegance from thine ?564
Wouldst see thyself ? —Behold yon ambling ape,565
Unconscious libel on the human shape !566
Throw wide the door ! Let Floribel be seen !567
The Queen of Beauty, Affectation’s Queen !568
Survey her face, her shape, her dress, her hair,569
And say if Nature owns one tittle there !570
Her senses fail, she cannot hear or see,571
She scarce can move for very vanity.572
With desperate efforts at unheard-of grace,573
She crawls, she creeps, she wriggles to her place.574
She laughs with every word ; her teeth are fine ;575
She rolls her eyes ; —how liquidly they shine !576
Her hand waves back the ringlets of her hair ;577
The tress how glossy, and the hand how fair !578
A patch gives poignance to her dimpled chin ;579
How does that patch relieve her snowy skin !580
The fan, an emblem of her heart she holds,581
As light, as fluttering, and as full of folds ;582
Like that, between a thousand coxcombs shared,583
As easy broken, and as soon repair’d.584
Deluded nymph, how much mistaken toil,585
What Nature meant for beautiful to spoil !586
What’s gain’d ? That men exclaim not,—oh how fair,587
But—how affected, silly maid, you are !588
Ah think the time must come, when youthful grace589
Shall fly, yet leave the smirk upon your face,—590
The teeth depart, yet still the smile remain,—591
The eye grow dim, yet still its roll retain,— 592
All beauty fade, and leave but folly’s dress,593
The caput mortuum of silliness.594
Ye rural shades, that charm the poet’s view,595
Is old Simplicity escaped to you ?596
Ah, to no sphere is Vanity confined,597
And Affectation works in every mind !598
The self-same follies, that infest the town,599
Glare in the milk-maid, and delude the clown.600
For conquest ripe, the rustic fair untwirls601
Her morning papillotes for evening curls,602
The ploughboy ties his kerchief with a grace,603
And spares the curls around his moony face,604
Though his cropp’d head, the village barber’s care,605
Appears, by woful contrast, doubly bare.606
Yet while our eyes are to ourselves untrue,607
The spots of others ne’er escape our view.608
Thus oft, when gazing where far hills retreat,609
We overlook the landscape at our feet.610
Macra, whose skin, to fifty winters known,611
Seems parchment tighten’d o’er a skeleton,612
Sees Crassa—jolly dame ! —her window pass,613
And cries aloud— “ Sure all flesh is not grass !614
Somewhat I see, far more substantial there ;615
How many pounds, I wonder, could she spare ? ”616
Your thanks, good madam, certainly were due,617
Could she bestow the overplus on you !618
But, stranger still ! —in others we detect,619
In us invisible, our own defect,620
Mock every fault of gesture, look, or tone,621
Unconscious that we satirize our own.622
Thus old Garrulio, if his speech you balk,623
Exclaims— “ Good Heaven ! how some men love to talk ! ”624
Yon ancient pair of sister virgins see,625
In all the pride of maiden dignity !626
With equal charms the gazer’s eye they strike,627
Each deaf, each spiteful, each deform’d alike.628
If in Rugosa fewer spots appear,629
Divine Gorgonia boasts a milder leer.630
Gorgonia whispers you, with shaking pate,631
My sister’s alter’d dismally of late !632
Those wrinkles tell a tale ; —she owns fourscore ;633
Pooh, pooh ! between ourselves, she’s five years more.634
How ill she dresses ! —And her temper ! —Sir,635
No mortal but myself could live with her ! ”636
Rugosa takes your other ear by storm ; —637
How sadly crooked is my sister’s form !638
Such curves can ne’er the lines of beauty be ; —639
And yet she thinks herself as straight as me !640
Vain as a peacock ! —Oh, you need not fear ;641
Believe me, she’s too deat to overhear ! ”642
So in a mirror every form is shewn643
Reflected faithfully—except its own.644
Nor only does the aim at Self-content645
In various ranks assume a various bent,646
Nor yet alone bears different shape and name647
In different men—but even in the same.648
In each it transmigrates through many a stage,649
From infancy to youth, from youth to age.650
In the vex’d babe its wayward germ we trace,651
As the man’s features in the embryo face.652
Each day develop’d—fractious, peevish, wild,653
It frowns or frolics in the wilful child ;654
Then, bursting into youth, it whores and drinks,655
Games, swears, hunts, fences—every thing but thinks.656
In manhood, sober grown, it struts, looks big,657
Girds on a sword, or plunges in a wig,658
Tries every mask, till, one by one worn out,659
It grins in avarice, or disgusts in gout.660
Self-love’s the Hydra of the human race ;661
Lop but one head, another takes its place.662
Vice springs, immortal Phoenix, from the tomb,663
The very grave of Folly is her womb.664
The saintly beau, become a grave divine,665
As once at parties, loves at church to shine :666
’Twas once his pride to waltz, or make a bow667
To draw the tear from contrite beauty, now.668
Yet, like the Roman fool, whose bloodless bands669
Feign’d high achievements o’er unconquer’d lands,670
To arms ! to arms ! the distant foe we dare,671
Our trophies rubbish, and our triumphs air.672
What if in senates the repentant rake673
Bestows the sleep his riots used to break,674
Vain of his fiery heart, or sapient brain,675
What matters it ? Why, still the man is vain !676
As every era’s kindred vice retires,677
We deem we vanquish what itself expires ;678
Nor heed, self-blinded, when one fiend is fled,679
That seven worse devils enter in its stead.680
Thus old Avaro boasts that he no more681
Drinks his five bottles, or maintains his whore.682
Smil’st thou, my friend, the grave mistake to see ?683
Change but the name, the tale is told of thee !684
Self-love still grows, while all beside decays,685
The bosom’s poison-tree that lives and slays,686
True, in its progress, Vice is pain at first687
But then ’ tis only torpor at the worst;688
And, as each rolling year prolongs our sleep,689
The death-trance grows more deadly and more deep.690
So, if the wounded shun the friendly knife,691
Corruption taints the healthy stream of life;692
While, to beguile his being’s dwindling span,693
Pain’s sweet cessation cheats the dying man.694